Who should make decisions about projects that affect nature on a global scale? What laws or regulations exist that govern internet constellations? What aspects of the natural world might be affected by this technology in both the short- and long-term?
This case is about an experienced engineer leading a team at a tech start-up, and addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills).
Now, as well as the activities within the original case study, we have provided an expansion on one of the activities in the form of a Case enhancement, Anatomy of an internet satellite.
If you would like to give feedback on this or any other Engineering Ethics resource, or submit your own content, you can do so here. We also have a newly created community of practice that you can join, where we hope that educators will support each other, and share their success stories of teaching engineering ethics. You can join our Ethics Ambassadors community here.
What health and safety, environmental, and legal policies affect offshore wind farms? If they are in the open sea, which country’s laws are applied? Who is responsible for maintaining ecosystem health in the open sea? How are harms identified and mitigated?
This case study is based on a genuine challenge raised by a multinational energy company that operates an offshore wind farm in the North Sea. It involves three professional engineers responsible for various aspects of the project to negotiate elements of safety, risk, environmental impact, and costs, in order to develop a maintenance plan for the wind turbine blades.
We’ve provided this and other case studies – which include classroom activities and additional resources – for you to use and adapt in your teaching. We also have a growing library of guidance articles available to support you in your teaching, and an interactive Ethics Explorer to get you started.
If you would like to give feedback on this or any other Engineering Ethics resource, or submit your own content, you can do so here. We also have a newly created community of practice that you can join, where we hope that educators will support each other, and share their success stories of teaching engineering ethics. You can join our Ethics Ambassadors community here.
Every year, the Engineering Professors’ Council flagship Congress meeting defines what’s hot in engineering academia. Competitively hosted by EPC members themselves on a UK touring model, in 2023 we are thrilled to be visiting the historic city of Hereford; a foodie paradise on the Welsh border. We celebrate six weeks to go with six reasons why you should come too, from 12th to 14th June…
1. A glimpse into NMITE’s new model. Many of us have angled for an invite, here’s yours.
Hereford is, of course, home to NMITE; our hosts and new kids on the block in engineering HE. We’ve all heard of NMITE’s challenger approach and hands-on engineering degrees. No lecture halls. No traditional exams. No physics or maths requirement. But what does this actually look like and how does it relate to our own model of engineering HE?
Congress will be based at Skylon Campus: a new, sustainably built smart building constructed from responsibly sourced timber. We’ll be using the student spaces for ourselves throughout the event. There is also the opportunity to take a guided tour around NMITE’s repurposed, state-of-the-art city centre facility, Blackfriars Campus.
2. Our awesome line up of speakers
Featuring Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK; Vicki Stott, Chief Executive of the Quality Assurance Agency; The Rt Hon Jesse Norman MP, Minister of State (Decarbonisation and Technology); Dr Annabel Kiernan, Pro Vice Chancellor of Staffordshire University; Dr Ruth Graham, author of Improving University Reward for Teaching: A Roadmap for Change; Ian Dunn; Provost of Coventry University; and Rod Bristow, former CEO of Pearson UK.
Plus a host of expert speakers from on new models of recruitment; delivery; curriculum; assessment; employability; academic employment and progression; and funding. Including: Advance HE; Dyson; Pearson UK; the Royal Academy of Engineering; Siemens; Arden University; Canterbury Christ Church University; University of Cambridge; University of East Anglia; Imperial College London; NMITE; Oxford Brookes University; Swansea University; TEDI-London; University College London; Warwick Manufacturing Group; and Wiltshire College
3. An opportunity to try blacksmithing
The Rural Crafts Centre is recognised as the foremost national centre for Smiths and is the largest training based forge in Europe. On Monday, you can enjoy a hands-on blacksmithing workshop and go home with your very own hand forged results to show for it! Spaces on this amazing activity are limited and will be offered on a first-come first served basis. So book your space sooner, rather than later.
4. Food and even more culture
A good lunch is always a draw, and we promise you’ll be impressed with Hereford’s impressive food pedigree. We’ll feed you well in the day, and even better at night, warming up with an all-weather curry social on Monday night before the main event, Congress dinner on the Left Bank overlooking the River Wye, on Tuesday evening. You’ll be entertained by neuroscientist, author and blogger, Dean Burnett, and we’ll celebrate the success of the EPC student Hammermen Award finalists. You will already have experienced the awe-inspiring Hereford Cathedral – home of the mappa-mundi – where world famous physicist, Professor Dame Athene Donald DBE, FRS, will give the public lecture on Monday.
5. Your network, let’s network
This year, Congress truly belongs to the Engineering Academics Network. Annual congress is an event to bring together engineering academics at all levels of their career, from deans and heads of department to postgraduates. We’ve missed the organic opportunity to ask questions, discover and share innovative ideas, and gain important professional insight across a host of engineering-related institutions. We are proud to support early career academics with heavily discounted tickets for Congress. Networking opportunities at Congress are second to none. We want more of you to benefit!
6. Outstanding value for money
With early bird member tickets discounted to under £300 until 5th May, and an even bigger EPC subsidy for early career staff and staff from the hosting university, the professional development on offer is a steal. Where else can you get so much for so little?
Bookings are now being taken for EAN Annual Congress. Tickets and further information here.
The results of the 2022 EPC Engineering Enrolments Survey are now available. Deep dive the results through our members-only Data explorer, view the slide-deck, or read the summary blog.
To start, many thanks to members who completed this year’s EPC engineering enrolments survey. The survey gives us all an early temperature check of the health of HE undergraduate and postgraduate engineering enrolments and provides early signals to changing patterns of enrolments. Our survey is the only place you can gain this insight, long before official sector enrolment data for 2022/23 is available.
Following the introduction of EPC Online earlier this year, we are delighted to present an enhanced survey report in 2022. Results are now showcased in our pioneering Data explorer service which provides you, our members, the opportunity to access and explore the findings through dynamic and flexible data visualisations. Using our new service, you can drill down and dissect results by specific cohorts, filter to your own discipline(s) of interest and view charts, tables and data personalised to your needs.
Please remember that this is a survey – not a data collection – but with more than half of EPC member providers submitting a response we celebrate better coverage (c35K students) of more discrete disciplines (210) than ever before. Net of the increase in responses, this leads us to a relative increase in enrolments suggesting a healthy Engineering intake in 2022.
In another first for our survey, IT systems sciences & computer software engineering leads the pack in Engineering enrolments in 2022, following a pattern of year-on-year growth in our survey. Mechanical engineering is a close runner up this year.
Last year, early signals of a contracting overseas market in First degree engineering raised concerns over Engineering’s ability to retain its relative strength in overseas recruitment. We were seeing sector-wide recruitment of overseas students increasing, possibly in subjects more easily accessible remotely in the pandemic recovery period than lab and kit dependent Engineering courses. While we can’t corroborate this trend in the HESA enrolments data for 2021 for a few months yet, our 2022 survey shows an encouraging, stronger, First degree overseas Engineering market this year.
In another overseas twist, a massive 82% of postgraduates in the 2022 sample were from overseas, continuing an upward trend since at least the 2019 survey and witnessing a sharp increase from 71% in 2021. Our surveys consistently show that Russell Group universities dominate the overseas postgraduate cohort so it is of note that our sample this year is weighted 2:1 to non-Russell group providers (compared to only a marginal non-Russell group majority typically). This may suggest we will see an even more pronounced swing when the full data collection becomes available in 2024.
Meanwhile, our members report declines in traditional Engineering disciplines of Civil; Mechanical; and Chemical, process and energy engineering this year, as well as Bioengineering. Growth is reported overall in Mineral, metallurgy & materials; Production and manufacturing; and IT systems sciences & computer software engineering. Of course, we are reminded that that market forces aren’t the only factor at play when it comes to changes in the engineering enrolments profile year on year.
More detail is available in the Recruitment + Admissions Forum launch presentation slide deck (and a recording will be available via the event page in due course). If you wish to explore the data for yourself, discover insights most relevant to your setting, and dive deeper into this this year’s findings, please do visit our to our members-only Data explorer. Do tell us what you think using the comment, discussion and takeaway channels available to you.
You may have noticed our beta Data explorer on EPC’s new website.
Student enrolments on the site is now fully formed and we were excited to recently bring members the first of a series of Data dive workshops to help them explore the amazing possibilities this brings. You won’t want to watch a whole hour of an interactive workshop, so we have recorded the demonstration to share with members who were unable to make the Data dive event but want to learn more about this member only service. You can review the recording via the past event page EPC Data dive workshop: student enrolments.
If you have any problems logging in or accessing the page, please contact us.
We pledge to bring you regular updates and a monthly hands-on online workshop to guide you through our new exclusive-to-members service. Check our website regularly to see what’s up next.
It’s our ambition at EngineeringUK to inform and inspire young people and grow the number and diversity of tomorrow’s engineers to meet the needs of the UK now and in the future.
And we’re very clear that achieving this ambition requires the concerted, collective effort of organisations and individuals with a shared interest in ensuring that all young people can make an informed choice about whether to pursue an engineering career.
Our analysis of the annual Engineering Brand Monitor shows that young people who know more about what engineers do are more likely to perceive the profession positively and to consider a career in engineering. Furthermore, young people attending a STEM careers activity in the past 12 months were over 3 times more likely to consider a career in engineering than those who had not.
Worryingly, nearly half of young people surveyed said they know little or almost nothing about what engineers do and many of them see engineering as complicated and difficult as well as dirty. Beyond that, while key influencers of young people hold positive views about engineering, fewer than half of STEM secondary school teachers and under a third of parents are confident in giving engineering careers advice.
There is therefore a need to work more effectively to ensure that all young people, and their influencers, have a good understanding of the breadth and value of modern engineering and how to get into it. Outreach has an important role to play in this, but we must ensure that it works for the digitally engaged young people of today, especially those from groups that are under-represented in the engineering workforce.
It’s vital we take an open and experimental approach to developing outreach, testing content and delivery with target audiences, and, ideally, involving them in the planning.
Taking an evidence-based approach to outreach includes identifying key messages that resonate with young people. As an example, our surveys have shown for many years that ‘having an impact’ and ‘being valued’ are important to young people when deciding upon a career, research last summer also found that the pandemic had made job security and availability more important to them.
STEM outreach should therefore convey the wide-ranging societal contributions that engineers make and the certainty of future engineering workforce needs, for example, supported by the government’s investments in infrastructure and for net zero.
With 100s of organisations delivering STEM engagement, we must work together to improve our approach to designing, delivering, and evaluating activities, as well as sharing our learnings and coordinating our work with one other.
That’s why EngineeringUK is proud to have been invited to deliver the Tomorrow’s Engineers Codewhich gathered 140 signatories (including HEIs) in its first 9 months, all pledging to work together to increase the collective impact of our engineering-inspiration activities and ultimately the number and diversity of young people choosing engineering.
STEM outreach efforts must focus on measuring and increasing the impact of activity as well as its reach. As a community, we must cultivate a greater understanding of how engagement activities can affect positive change through robust research and a shared evidence base.
There are of course difficulties in evaluating the impact of outreach activities targeted at 11–14-year-olds on, for example, graduate entries. As an example, The Big Bang Fair supported by hundreds of organisations and orchestrated by EngineeringUK and which by 2019 welcomed 80,000 visitors, would need up to 10 years to see impacts on graduate entries. Nevertheless, our in-house and independent evaluations have shown that the Fair helps to inspire young people into engineering and provides them with information on how to get there. This evaluation also identifies how we can improve so we can iterate year on year and share our learnings.
STEM outreach works within a much wider eco-system that impacts on a young person’s choices. So, while we know that knowledge of engineering is a limiting factor, it is one of many, including opportunities to progress in key subjects, specialist teachers, confidence and so on. It could be that we make progress in one area – knowledge or appeal of engineering – but that other elements, such as supply of specialist teachers, limit progression.
We’ve developed and published an impact framework to help describe this system, and are using it to help us articulate the changes we are trying to achieve and evaluate against them – and we are sharing it in the hope that it helps other organisations do the same.
It’s fair to say that the engineering community needs to work harder than ever to ensure that engineering is accessible to this generation of young people – for their own life chances and so that we have a diverse and insightful workforce that we need to innovate, improve societal and economic resilience and environmental sustainability.
While STEM outreach is only one part of the system that will deliver this, I am convinced that the renewed community emphasis on working together to deliver impact alongside reach will achieve the results we seek.
The EPC was honoured to welcome former Universities Minister the Rt Hon Chris Skidmore to delivered a speech as part of our 2021/22 Annual Congress on the theme of ‘A Better World’. This is the text of his speech.
Thank you for the invitation to speak today.
I feel honoured, yet at the same time daunted, that as a historian, you have given me this platform of addressing this annual congress of Engineering Professors.
I must confess it is that same mixed feeling of guilt and shame, call it imposter syndrome if you like, that one feels as a Minister, speaking to any assembled gathering of experts in their field, who know far more than I could ever hope to know about both your respective discipline and its research, than I could even possibly conceive.
Yet while I may call from the arts and humanities side of the tracks, I have a long-held admiration for engineering, having broken an equally long-standing family tradition of becoming an engineer. My grandfather began his career at an early age at Rolls Royce in Filton, while my father followed him into British Aerospace, working on Concorde, before branching out into medical physics and obtaining his Physics doctorate in doppler ultrasound, establishing his own medical technology company and winning the Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal back in 2000.
As a result, I’ve witnessed first-hand the trials, frustrations, wrong turnings of a family small business working in R&D over the past four decades. I’ve seen and recognised the barriers that prevent research projects from ever getting off the ground.
Above all, I grew up recognising that engineering at its essence, was about problem solving— not merely the theoretical or the practical, but also the day to day reality of making things— whether a product or business— work.
Today, you have set me an enigma of a problem to solve. How can we ‘research for a better world’?
A better world is one which we all of course always strive for, indeed it has always been the goal of governments and societies past, but perhaps in my lifetime, the need for a better world brings with it more meaning and urgency than I can remember. It is the nature of the human condition to seek hope in despair, to look forwards and not backwards, and to find meaning out of times that can seem incomprehensible. So we find ourselves, as previous generations have done, seeking to ‘rebuild’, or in that phrase du jour, ‘build back better’.
In the wake of the pandemic, post-Covid recovery the almost the sole focus of governments, a mission that one could have scarcely understood 18 months ago when I was still Research Minister. The importance of research has been proven in spades by the pandemic. It has been our guiding light out of the tunnel.
Of course, the world still turns, hospitals and schools need to function, welfare needs to be provided, but while the pandemic continues to rage across the globe, we have yet to experience the aftershocks that it has caused, from economic recession and a GDP fall that has not been matched for centuries, a fall in educational achievement to a falling birth rate and its impact upon future society. These are problems that not just current politicians will have to grapple with, but I suspect future generations also, not least when we also will have to address the historic levels of debt and the yawning deficit that once again will hang around our economies, hindering their effectiveness to deliver economic growth and future prosperity.
In this new age, we need to recognise that priorities will change, as competing demands are made on more limited resources. Already we are witnessing calls for increased spending, at a time when a pathway to fiscal constraint will also need to be set. And with any competing demand, choices will need to be made. How those choices are chosen will be determined by the value, both in terms of economically but also to society, placed upon them by policy makers and governments.
The importance of research to our economy and society should have been proven in spades by the pandemic. It has been research that has proved to be our guiding light out of the tunnel. Vaccination programmes, antivirals and medication to tackle COVID has demonstrated how research not only transforms lives, it saves lives too. If there is one positive to be drawn from this dark past year, it has been the improved recognition that R&D matters.
Yet equally, scepticism to scientific advice, combined with anxieties over lockdown, has highlighted that the research community must always work to demonstrate impact, to take wider society and the general public with them. Narratives matter. How they are woven, out of the threads of people’s hopes and fears, facts and figures, stories and examples, determines how successful campaigns can be. And the need for more research will always be one long campaign that never ends.
Even before the pandemic broke, the government allied its own narrative of a post-Brexit Britain to the future facing, change making potential that R&D investment can bring, with its call to fashion the UK as a ‘global science superpower’. The commitment to spend 2.4% GDP by 2027 on R&D was of course made in the Industrial Strategy White Paper back in 2017, but the recent government commitment to double public R&D spending to £22billion by 2024/25 has certainly given the commitment a boost. I have spend considerable time already analysing how we might achieve the ‘Road to 2.4%’ in a 30,000 word lecture series I gave in 2019, and do not wish to repeat myself, though for me perhaps the most pressing fact I can relate today is that on 13 July, 2027 is just 2,000 days away.
This year’s Innovation strategy and the investment made in the Spending Review in R&D will be a critical indicator of whether we will reach the 2.4% target. Four years have so far past, with R&D activity having only risen around 0.2% of GDP in this period. With five and a half years to go, we cannot afford to continue on the same trajectory.
I have come to doubt whether 2.4% will be sufficient for the scale of change that is coming. Now is the time to double down, especially when we recognise where the rest of the world is heading. Even I have come to doubt whether 2.4%, the OECD average at the present time, will be sufficient for the scale of change that is coming in the 2020s and into the 2030s. Innovation rich countries are pulling ahead even further. The US and China are heading towards 3% GDP, Japan spends 3.2%, Germany is planning to reach 4%, South Korea is already at 4.5% and Israel higher still at 4.9%. Even the OECD average that was the benchmark for the 2.4% strategy has risen to probably over 2.6%.
The pandemic and other nations response to how to build economic recovery will only lead to a widening gap in R&D performance if we do not step up. “In order to win the 21st century economy” President Biden has stated, “America must get back to investing in the researchers, laboratories, and universities across our nation”. He is calling on Congress to make an $180 billion investment that will both advance U.S. leadership in critical technologies and upgrade America’s research infrastructure” and “establish the United States as a leader in climate science, innovation, and R&D”. Similar commitments marrying increased investment in innovation and technology with clean growth and combatting climate change are being made across Germany, South Korea, China and Singapore.
Nine years ago, I wrote a chapter in a book making the case that innovation should be placed at the centre of ‘Britannia Unchained’. The success of ‘Global Britain’ now depends on matching countries that have transformed their economies towards innovation and research. I would now go further— and suggest for the Innovation Strategy that a definite timetable is set for 3%, and beyond to 3.5%. To fail to achieve this over the next two decades will be setting ourselves up to fail.
Yet with any strategy, risk of simply being left behind as the world transitions its economies towards more modern, technological approaches in which R&D lies the centre, is not the only narrative that must be woven. At every stage, the threat of inaction or slow progress needs to be balanced with the positive, transformational, human message of why investment in R&D is so important, if the taxpayer and general public are to understand the importance of research. Important not only for companies who wish to remain agile and market dominant, important not only for new job creation, but why R&D is important to someone living in Hartlepool or Doncaster. It’s a question that I have continued to grapple with outside of government having agreed to co-chair the Higher Education Commission’s inquiry into levelling up research funding. For myself, I have long believed that investment in translational research conducted in places such as our catapult networks such as the Advanced Manufacturing Catapult is where change could be delivered: with a budget of under £250million a year, this is less than a tenth of what Germany spends on its Fraunhofer institutes. By combining additional investment with a commitment to work lower down the supply chain, and to ally skills programmes with new catapult centres, the impact that research can have creating new jobs at every skill level could be felt. People are, quite obviously, the life blood of R&D. It doesn’t matter how much money you invest, unless you have the capacity and capability to perform research, and to adapt and translate its potential.
Low level productivity and a skills deficit remain one of the greatest barriers to ‘levelling up’ across the country, which cannot be achieved by investment in capital alone. People are, quite obviously, the life blood of R&D. It doesn’t matter how much money you invest, unless you have the capacity and capability to perform research, and to adapt and translate its potential. And I’m not just talking about the 200,000 new jobs that will need to be created through the expansion of R&D activity, but the wider ecosystem and supply chain of jobs that are created through the application of new technologies or new materials.
We cannot divorce the activities of researchers from the wider skills pipeline that needs to be created if we are to meet 2.4%: skills training offers the best possible means to increase productivity, yet our SMEs and companies have some of the lowest in work training rates in the OECD. Those that fail to invest in skills are the same who fail to invest in R&D, for they rely on short-term gains and not realising long-term opportunity. Allied to investing in research— and with it our high skill level researchers— is the imperative that we invest in skills across the supply chain if diffusion, adaption and development is to succeed. It’s why I have decided to establish the Lifelong Education Commission with Res Publica, to highlight how training and lifelong skills investment is just as essential for economic transformation as R&D, indeed one cannot happen effectively without the other.
If we are to research for the better, ‘global science superpower’ narrative must be aligned with the ‘levelling up’ agenda if both are to truly succeed: the challenge for us all is joining both together in a way that demonstrates real change to the lives of people or SMEs who do not view R&D as something that either affects them, or they need to do.
Engineering has a rich heritage of translating complex and unfathomable ideas into reality. From the railways to the car, the history of flight, engineers have managed to transform individual lives by demonstrating how technological change can make people’s lives easier. Of course, this is where engineering has a rich heritage of translating complex and unfathomable ideas into reality. From the railways to the car, the history of flight, engineers have managed to transform individual lives by demonstrating how technological change can make people’s lives easier. The historian in me still believes we have much to learn from the role of engineering in the history of innovation, and what lessons we can still learn for today on how to achieve large scale systems changes needed for society.
The challenge we face, however, is how we make change just as convenient and comfortable as possible, when in areas such as climate change and the emissions reductions needed to achieve net zero, require transformations away from current technologies and behaviours that seem daunting.
But it can be done. Indeed it must be done. R&D into new, yet to exist technologies will have a critical role to play in achieving net zero, a target which I signed into law back in 2019. Yet equally if not more important is the impact that research into how we can better use existing technologies to achieve net zero. If 2021 will be dominated by any agreement reached at COP26 in Glasgow in November, it will have to be research that steps up to deliver on the greener future that will be required.
The issue for the UK’s R&D strategy comes when we move away from the clearly defined narratives of levelling up, building back better, or a green recovery. Mission orientated approaches towards specific goals and outcomes are helpful in supporting these narratives, shaping them and the financial investment needed to deliver upon them. But UK research has also led and shaped a better future by its discovery led nature, based on excellence. This cannot be left aside in the desire to create more challenge-based funding schemes. The creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency is a welcome one, but again this should not be viewed as an alternative to properly funding laboratory focused research across departments in our universities and research institutes, which will still be conducting perhaps 90% of existing R&D research.
I make this point, for if we are to research for a better future, it is worth reminding that this does not always necessarily mean we need to resort to novelty. Existing funding mechanisms such as QR are perhaps the best means by which to get R&D investment flowing so that it has maximum impact. I’ve seen first-hand also how QR can be used as the mortar to bind various funding streams together, so that organically, research projects can then flourish and attract further private R&D in turn. Equally, funding opportunities such as the Research Partnership Investment Fund or the Higher Education Innovation Fund are working, though I believe with the publication of the Knowledge Exchange Framework, they can be now harnessed to better qualitative data. We need not reinvent the wheel to move faster towards 2.4% or 3% … we just need to change the tyre.
One of the reasons I campaigned strongly also for association to Horizon Europe was along these same conservative principles, that we should seek to preserve and protect long cherished research partnerships that have been forged over many years. It is a philosophy perhaps best espoused by Michael Oakshott— ‘to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible’. We need not reinvent the wheel to move faster towards 2.4% or 3% as I would suggest, we just need to change the tyre.
That said, I do believe that there is a case for fashioning a new compact for R&D between government, universities and our research institutes, one based not solely on increased investment, but on how that money is apportioned and how better research can be realised by engendering a better sense of trust within the system.
Far too often, too many researchers in both university and industry and chasing too many pots of grant funding, the total amount of which will last but a year if lucky before another funding cycle needs to be initiated. An hour wasted on form-filling, on meetings to agree who will conduct the assessment, to meet the demands and conditions of the grant, is potentially an hour of research wasted. The government has rightly instigated a Bureaucracy Review into existing processes, but I wonder if everyone would not be better served by moving towards a model of research funding like Horizon Europe, that has a multi-financial framework, a fixed seven year research programme.
For the government, such a single research fund might help to rationalise investments from discovery led research and ARIA at the apex, towards more translational and applied research at the base, with missions acting as funding streams. Setting a multi-annual budget would also allow for UKR&D activity to be more agile, to seize potential collaborative R&D activities with international partners, and to break free from the annual cycle of the R&D budget. And at the same time, a single research budget could be clearly communicable to the public and taxpayer, in the same way Horizon has been across Europe.
Perhaps you may view this as just too ambitious, though we should recognise that, as the pandemic has demonstrated and Net Zero will need to demonstrate in spades if it is to succeed, the horizontal structures of government and society need to be as strong as the vertical, to which a single budget commissioning research might be the answer.
Underlying the purpose of a single budget, and a multi-annual framework aligned to an agreed settlement, is perhaps the most important principle we need for research: stability. You all know the value that stability brings, and the threat to research that instability endangers. Grants are paused, revenue streams dry up, collaborations once possible move elsewhere. More than money can ever buy, stability lies at the heart of a successful R&D ecosystem. That is why it is so important that when considering any policy decision, and its potential to disrupt or delay, analysis is given to how this might impact upon research capacity.
To this I would like to add two further priorities for delivering better research: security and sustainability.
Security of course has more than one connotation, both facing inwards and outwards. For the research community, research cannot be conducted effectively without the frameworks and agreements that underpin collaboration. The importance of intellectual property rights and other intangible assets is only growing, and if the UK is to maintain its leadership in these fields, we will need to seek out new means of securing new rights across digital domains and AI. Post-Brexit, we seriously need to address issues around UK IP rights and our relationship with the European Patent Office, but this should also point to a wider review of how the UK can lead on the debates around the future of copyright, trademarks and patents working with the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
The security of research that has the potential to fall into the hands of hostile agents needs to be guarded against too, which is why the creation of a new unit in BEIS to monitor threats to universities and research institutes is a welcome one. We should continue to seek collaborations across the globe, for research knows no boundaries, but this cannot come at the cost of compromising the value of research that has been funded by the taxpayer. Then there is the question of sovereignty when it comes to critical national infrastructure and assets. Debates around a UK GNSS system in space and UK independence will likely translate across to other new technologies in due course. Post-Brexit, there is a powerful narrative to be explored about how the UK, while working to strengthen its international collaboration in research, can at the same time increase and improve its independent manufacturing capacity in new technologies.
But security in research, for any researcher, is also about their job. Putting food on the table, looking after their family, scientists and researchers are human after all, even if it seems at times that they perform superhuman tasks. Academic precarity for early career researchers was an area of policy I sought to focus on when a Minister, highlighting the consequences of fixed term contracts and non disclosure agreements that undermined staff and their welfare. Never mind the so-called ‘brain drain’ across the Atlantic, we continue to lose too many excellent researchers from our universities, some who never return to work in R&D again. This is an unacceptable loss of talent, and an unacceptable loss of taxpayer investment in human capital that has been wasted due to lack of foresight. It’s why one of the last announcements I made was that the government should construct a People Strategy for research, to plan effectively how to retain researchers and not lose them through a lack of secure job opportunities.
To stability and security, I would also add sustainability. By that I don’t mean measuring sustainability by SDGs or in financial terms, though that is clearly important, but in sustaining the institutions through which R&D flows.
To return to that same Oakshottean principle, we should seek to conserve that which has worked, to recognise and respect the value that our existing universities and research institutes bring to Britain globally. This includes taking care not to threaten university R&D activity inadvertently. Ultimately, this would not happen if research costs were funded at full economic cost. To place research activity at the mercy of international student flows or any other cross-subsidisation seems a dangerous place, and perhaps ultimately unsustainable place, to be.
Universities and their research have been so outstanding at delivering on international sustainable development goals, turning their focus on how to improve societies across the globe, that sometimes they seem to have neglected their own sustainability. By this I don’t mean their financial sustainability, but the sustainability of their public image. I have campaigned for universities to recognise their value as civic institutions, to become anchor institutions in the towns and cities from which they take their name, if they are to retain wider public support.
There is so much untapped potential here, for universities to not only highlight their existing importance to their local and regional economies, but to consciously adopt new strategies of setting up walk in centres on local high streets, engaging seriously with future modular and course based provision, to demonstrate why they can be change makers locally as well as globally. Of course there is a wider role here for how all this is measured if it is to be managed, but the intent should come before the process. In an age of competing priorities, the more universities can do to expand their mission, the more likely they are to secure their future. As I have said previously, Red Wall universities can spearhead an educational and civic mission as impressive as the Red Brick universities had, if they are willing to look at how to do things differently, diversify and adapt. Sustainability can and should be local as much as global.
Call it the Plan Triple S, if you like, but these three words: stability, security and sustainability should underpin any research strategy for a better future. Between them they blend, I believe, the vital importance of retaining and conserving what the UK already does so well, with the potential to achieve even more, building on our successes.
For ultimately, if we want to research for a better world, we need better research.
Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP
The 2020 Professors and Heads of Electrical Engineering Conference (PHEE), in conjunction with PHOMME (Professors and Heads of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering) and the EPC (Engineering Professors’ Council) will be held at the IET, Savoy Place, London on 15th January, 2020.
To download the programme for the day, please follow the link here.
Proposals are invited from higher education Engineering departments to host the Engineering Professors’ Council Annual Congress in 2020 or 2021. ‘Hosting the 2018 Engineering Professors’ Council Congress was a great way to showcase the University’s work to a wide range of experts in the field as well as to the professional bodies in engineering. Our staff and students gained a lot from explaining their approach to engineering education and research, and we were also able to explore new collaborations to broaden the reach of our engineering activities. We were delighted to welcome the EPC to Harper Adams and hope that other universities taking the opportunity act as the venue for the Congress will gain as much from the experience as we have.’ David Llewellyn, Vice-Chancellor, Harper Adams University (hosts of the 2018 Annual Congress)
The Annual Congress is the flagship event in the EPC calendar, an opportunity for engineering academics from across the UK to come together to explore policy and practice and to network. Download guidelines. Download the form for submitting a proposal.
Each year, Congress is hosted by a different institution:
The Congress usually takes place in April or May and lasts two days with a reception on the evening before the Congress formally starts.
2016: The University of Hull hosted Congress as a prestigious addition to its preparations as European City of Culture.
2017: Coventry University hosted taking the opportunity to demonstrate the city’s close associated with transport engineering and manufacturing.
2018: Harper Adams University displayed its cutting edge status as a leading centre of agricultural engineering including automated farming and a range of off-road vehicles.
2019: UCL is host for this year’s congress where its proximity to the seat of Government has allowed an amazing line-up of high-profile speakers on a range of policy issues at a time of historic challenges.
The host institution nominates a Congress Convenor who will become a member of the EPC Board for up to three years (2019-21 for the 2020 Convenor; 2020-22 for the 2021 Convenor) and who, with guidance from the EPC executive team, will lead the organisation of the Congress, including determining the themes and scope for the Congress, and the speakers and events.
We are inviting bids to act as host for either of the next two years. You can specify one year or the other or apply without choosing a year. We will not select the same host for both years. Download guidelines.
Download the form for submitting a proposal. To submit a proposal, complete the form here and email it to Johnny Rich, Chief Executive, at firstname.lastname@example.org 19thJune 2019. Johnny can also be contacted at the same address or by phone on 078-1111 4292 to discuss any aspect of Congress or the proposal process. What is expected from the host
The host institution (host) would be expected to provide:
an academic of suitable standing to act as Convenor and other staff resource as necessary to assist planning the Congress;
suitable function rooms such as a lecture theatre and smaller break-out rooms, as well as space for networking;
catering for the Congress;
possibly accommodation, particularly, for early career staff delegates to the Congress who may be provided free accommodation in student residences;
management of the Congress during the event;
financial accountability in accordance with the financial arrangements (see below).
There will be some support from the EPC executive, but it is advisable to ensure that the host can provide conference support staff as the smooth running of the Congress will primarily be the Convenor’s responsibility.
The Congress usually attracts up to 100 delegates, but the numbers have grown in recent years and the host should be able to provide for 150. Selection process
The process for selection as host involves submission of your proposal to the EPC Board, which will conduct a vote. The basis for its decision is entirely at its discretion, but they will take into account issues such as the nominated Convenor, the suitability of the facilities, the arrangements for costs, the geographical suitability (although the EPC is keen not always to be restricted to big centres of population), the suggested activities such as Congress Dinner venue and other attractions, and other arrangements to ensure the smooth running of the Congress.
The host institution must be a member of the EPC. We would particularly welcome joint proposals from separate institutions to host jointly, such as two engineering departments at separate universities in the same city. Financial arrangements
The suggestion for the financial arrangement between the EPC and the host forms part of the proposal. The EPC will seek to minimise its risk and, if possible, would like to generate a surplus from the event to contribute to its own in-house costs in running the Congress. However, the quality of the event and its appeal to members will be of greater weight in selecting the host institution.
That said, it may be helpful to provide as guidance the following arrangement that has been used in the past. The EPC would hope that the host would aim to meet at least this arrangement:
Costs may be divided into three categories as follows:
‘External costs’: ie. costs that will genuinely have to be met, such as catering, external venue hire, student ambassadors, etc. The EPC would guarantee all these external costs and, if necessary, would pay them up-front. In any case, the EPC would be liable for these costs.
‘Internal costs’: such as staff who are already employed by the host. The host would guarantee these costs and, in the event that registration income was insufficient to meet them, the host would be liable for them.
‘Internal fees’: where the only cost to the host is a notional price that it sets internally – room hire, for instance. Once the two types of costs above have been met from revenue, 75% of any remainder may be used to defray the host’s internal fees and the other 25% will be due to the EPC to defray our internal costs and fees. After the host’s internal fees have been met, any surplus would be split equally.
The proposal should make it clear whether the host proposes to manages the bookings process and receive the registration fees or would prefer this to be handled by the EPC. If the host receives the fees, after the Congress it will be expected to provide a full account of income and expenditure (outlining the categories of expense as above, if that model is used). If the EPC receives the fees, the host may invoice the EPC for costs in accordance with the agreement. In either case, the host will be expected to agree with the EPC a full budget for the Congress at the earliest opportunity (and before substantial Congress planning) and would not be entitled to incur costs on behalf of the EPC outside the agreed budget without separate agreement.
While the host will be responsible for setting the registration fees and packages for delegates, these must be agreed in advance with the EPC. These should not include a more than 10% increase on equivalent packages for the previous year. A significant number of places for early careers staff (not more than 5 years in an academic post) should be made available at the lowest possible rate (including, ideally, some complimentary places).
In some years, the host has acted as a major sponsor of the event contributing to the costs or not passing on some or all of the costs it incurs. Any such support would be acknowledged and the EPC will seek to support the host’s objectives in sponsoring Congress. Any other sponsorship revenue will normally be retained by the EPC or used to offset the costs of running the Congress.
The 2019 Professors and Heads of Electrical Engineering Conference (PHEE), in conjunction with PHOMME (Professors and Heads of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering) and the EPC (Engineering Professors’ Council) was held at the IMechE, Birdcage Walk, London on 16th January, 2019. The presentations that were made available by the speakers for publication may be downloaded via the link below.
Theme: Opportunities for UK Engineering Higher Education